Limbaugh's Rush to Darkness
Rush Limbaugh is the host of the "Rush Limbaugh Show" which is syndicated in more than 650 markets. The show is the most listened-to radio talk program in America. And this past summer Limbaugh was hired by ESPN to provide controversial opinions and boost the ratings for its Sunday NFL Countdown pre-game show. On Thursday, Oct. 1, Limbaugh resigned over controversial, racially-charged remarks he made on the Sunday, Sept. 28th program. But his resignation may not end Limbaugh's troubles. He may soon be tackling a much larger controversy involving charges that he has been involved in illegally obtaining thousands of prescription drugs without the requisite prescriptions.
A lot of heads were turned but no organized protest developed when ESPN added Limbaugh to its Sunday pre-game roster. It was, however, a head-scratcher because while no one disputed Limbaugh's interest in football, he had no special knowledge of the game, he never played the game at any serious level, and he didn't have a reputation for having spent hours breaking down game tape.
Clearly, ESPN hired Limbaugh for his opinions. Despite a reputation for being a multiple offender when it comes to racial issues, ESPN management expected Limbaugh to be controversial, but within the orbit of nuts and bolts football; weaving in some contentious opinions but keeping it within the sports realm -- doing for ESPN what he has done for radio stations across the country -- boost audiences and revenues.
While ESPN veteran Chris Berman, the host of the program, and former National Football League stars Steve Young, former San Francisco 49er quarterback, Michael Irvin, former Dallas Cowboy wide receiver, and Tom Jackson, former Denver Bronco linebacker, are capable of providing basic insights on football, Limbaugh was supposed to take it up a notch: Some compared Limbaugh's hiring to when ABC hired Howard Cossell for its initial Monday Night Football broadcasts.
However, on Sunday, Sept. 28, Limbaugh went for it when he probably should have punted. He said: "I think what we've had here is a little social concern in the NFL. The media has been very desirous that a black quarterback do well," Limbaugh said on Sunday's show. "There is a little hope invested in [Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Donovan] McNabb, and he got a lot of credit for the performance of this team that he didn't deserve. The defense carried this team."
Limbaugh's remarks brought down the house and not in a good way. On its merits, his comments showed what skeptics had charged all along, that he really knows little about football. He wrongly criticized the skills of McNabb, an all-pro quarterback who has helped carry his team to playoff games over the past few seasons. And Limbaugh's larger point that the so-called liberal media was trying to shine an uncritical light on black quarterbacks was also patently ridiculous: All you have to do is go into the archives and check out the negative coverage African-American quarterbacks Tony Banks and Kordell Stewart have received over the past few years.
On Thursday, Oct. 2, Limbaugh was forced to resign from ESPN. The network quickly accepted his resignation. As Jim Rome, popular sports radio talk show host and the host of "Rome is Burning" on ESPN television pointed out on his radio program on Thursday, "He [Limbaugh] crossed the line when he brought race" into the conversation.
"Anyone in football, in all of sports, should be offended [by Limbaugh's remarks]. Donovan McNabb made a believer out of me last year. He is one hell of a football player in all aspects of the game," Marvin Lewis, the African-American coach of the Cincinnati Bengals, told Jim Rome on Thursday.
In another development, Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie accused ESPN of "institutional racism" for its decision to hire Rush Limbaugh in the first place. "Some of the events of this week are built with institutional racism," Lurie told the Associated Press. "It exists. Let's not hide it. Let's not make us believe the problem is a single person. It's far from that."
Limbaugh, however, appears about to launch a counter-attack based on freedom of speech issues. "In certain places you can't express an opinion," Limbaugh told a convention of the National Association of Broadcasters on Thursday in Philadelphia. Look for him to play the martyr card on upcoming programs.
But Limbaugh may soon be brought down by an even bigger controversy:charges that he's been involved in illegally obtaining thousands of prescription drugs without a prescription. According to the Associated Press, in his resignation statement, "Limbaugh did not directly address media reports that began surfacing Wednesday that said the talk show host was under investigation in Florida for allegedly illegally obtaining and abusing prescription painkillers."
According to news services, Wilma Cline, Limbaugh's former housekeeper, who says she was Limbaugh's pill supplier for four years, was quoted by the Daily News as saying Limbaugh was hooked on the potent prescription drugs OxyContin, Lorcet and hydrocodone, and went through drug rehabilitation twice: "'There were times when I worried,' Cline told the National Enquirer, which also carried the story in an edition being published today. 'All these pills are enough to kill an elephant -- never mind a man.'"
Various news services reported that "Cline told the Enquirer she went to prosecutors with information about Limbaugh and others after four years of drug deals that included clandestine handoffs in a Denny's parking lot [and that] she wore a wire during her last two deliveries and gave the tapes to authorities." Cline maintained a "ledger documenting how many pills she claimed to have bought for him -- 4,350 in one 47-day period -- and e-mails she claimed Limbaugh sent her, including one e-mail in which "Limbaugh urged Cline to get more 'little blues,' the street name for the powerful narcotic OxyContin, she said."
"'You know how this stuff works ... the more you get used to, the more it takes,' the May 2002 e-mail read. 'But I will try and cut down to help out.'"
Premiere Radio Networks, which syndicates the politically focused "Rush Limbaugh Show," issued a statement from Limbaugh earlier Thursday saying: "I am unaware of any investigation by any authority involving me. No government representative has contacted me directly or indirectly. If my assistance is required, I will, of course, cooperate fully."
If Limbaugh has a drug problem, he should be accorded every opportunity to receive treatment. Perhaps an extended sabbatical would help chill him out. If, however, you're interested in Limbaugh's compassionate conservative views of people dealing with drug problems and other personal issues, read some of the transcripts gathered from Limbaugh's past programs collected at Eschaton's website.
I'm not a certified television gas bag, but I'm expecting the following things to happen: Regarding his racist comments, Limbaugh will claim he was only exercising his First Amendment rights and he will use his radio pulpit to launch a crusade around free speech issues; right-wing Republicans will close ranks around Limbaugh, beginning with discrediting the messenger -- the National Enquirer -- and then claiming that Bill and Hillary Clinton are behind the revelations; and the Rev. Jerry Falwell, Dr. James Dobson and Pat Robertson will spring to Limbaugh's defense and offer 'round-the-clock prayers on his behalf.
Years ago, popular televangelist Jimmy Swaggart was brought down when he was found to have been cavorting for years with prostitutes; Jim Bakker served time in the pen, lost his multi-million dollar religious empire, and his wife Tammy Faye, as a result of a series of sex scandals and fraudulent business activities; William Bennett, the self-appointed maven of morality, has thankfully been silenced after it was revealed that he had/has a major gambling jones. Now we find that Limbaugh has been hopped up on pills for several years. What's next? There never were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq?
Bill Berkowitz is a WorkingForChange.com columnist.